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Realising people's dreams

Rajendra Singh, the man behind the initiative that transformed the face of many a village in Rajasthan, talks of his momentous journey that took him from JP's Sampurna Kranti to international recognition. Still firmly rooted in the soil as he was when he began, he talks of his work, looking back on the years of struggle and reward.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2003 17:40 IST
PTI

Rajendra Singh, the man behind the initiative that transformed the face of many a village in Rajasthan, talks of his momentous journey that took him from JP's Sampurna Kranti to international recognition. Still as firmly rooted in the soilas he was when he started about two decades ago, he talks of his work, and much else as he looks back on the years of struggles and rewards. HindustanTimes.com caught up with the globetrotter who was on a visit to Delhi for a CII seminar of water management.

You were a project coordinator with the government in Jaipur. How did you get into water management?
The urge to do something was overpowering, something that would be for people, for communities, help them change their lives. I participated in Jai Prakash Narayan's Sampurna Kranti Movement. I was also influenced by friends around me and some of them even came along when I finally decided to leave Jaipur and go into the hinterlands.

How and why did you choose Alwar district?
Well, we wanted to go to areas that were in poor socio-economic situation and Alwar was one such district. In 1984, we took a bus from Jaipur and got down at the last stop, which happened to be Thanagazi, a small town in Alwar district. The people of Thanagazi were thirsty. I had earlier met people from the same area in Jaipur too, as masons or construction labour who had been forced to migrate due to famine.

Were you and your companions easily accepted in the area?
That is a strange tale. The year was 1984 and at that time I had a huge beard. People of the area thought I was a terrorist from Punjab. Even after I convinced them that I was not a terrorist, we had to struggle to convince them of our work.

You started by opening a health centre and a school. Why did you choose to concentrate on water?
The first priority of the area was water. Lack of water had caused large-scale migration from the area to cities like Surat, Mumbai and Jaipur. Manju Meena, a local villager, told us that the first thing we want is water. Any other work is useless. It was then that we started to explore why the water situation in the area was so bad, especially as it was not so in the past.

We spoke extensively to the local villagers. They still remembered the surrounding green slopes of the Aravalis and the way the trees had been sold off as timber at a very rapid rate. It was then I decided to work for the greening of the area and also, renovating the water structures in the area.

Where did you first begin your work?
The first village we worked in was Gopalpura, which was going through a particularly bad spell of drought. The river Arvari starts in this village, and it took us four years to complete the johad here. The river got water only during the monsoon and the villagers who had migrated, which was most of the able-bodied men, returned for their annual visit during the season. We would persuade them to do shramdaan as no government agency was ready to help in any way. The talab was desilted and the johad made. However, even as we were working, some of the water would collect, which helped recharge the underground water downstream.

First Published: May 28, 2003 18:17 IST